No, seriously, WTH is WFH?

Updated: Mar 25, 2020, 07:02 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Before capitalism contemplates replacing real-estate rents with white-collar workers, in separate home-offices!

According to Uber's statistics for Mumbai, we spend 11 full days in a year, only in daily, regular commutes. Pic/Istock
According to Uber's statistics for Mumbai, we spend 11 full days in a year, only in daily, regular commutes. Pic/Istock

Inmates in someMayank Shekhar Indian jails are known to temporarily alter your sexual orientation, if you aren’t sufficiently protected within the cell. Ignore them for a second. Speaking for a more civilised world, have you wondered how imprisonment may hardly be a deterrence against major crimes (robberies, murders, etc)? If the concerned criminal, so deeply impoverished otherwise, could barely afford food, clothing, shelter and stipend that the government offers, only once he gets convicted, after all?

Does the jail seem such a terrible place, compared to the merciless orphanage under the open sky that could drive one towards crime in the first place? Have thought about it. Consider the analogy that changed my mind. Try getting on a long-distance train that has your stop as the only destination. You’re comfortable alright.

There’s company too. But that train doesn’t stop for anywhere close to a year, to 14 years!

Juxtapose this to a train or flight delayed by a few hours — and how it drives you nuts. Extrapolate that delay to days and months slipping into years, while you can’t jump/step out of known bounds. Besides faff a lot, what do you really do, locked up behind high walls? Work.

Is the jail then the largest Work-From-Home (WFH), corporate/HR arrangement that exists? I’m just thinking about it, since like you, am working from home (given #CoronaCaution). And the answer is, no.

The jail is in fact the opposite of WFH. Call it WIH (Work Is Home, or Home Is Work), if you like. That’s the principle the jail works on. You physically assemble in large groups, rather than operate alone. Create something together. The cruelest punishment you can get, and this I saw on a brief trip to Pune’s Yerawada Jail (as a tourist/journalist, don’t worry), is obviously the ‘anda cell’. This is where actor Sanjay Dutt was briefly incarcerated. It’s the hole/home you’re not allowed to mingle/work from — therefore, worse than jail.

What’s an analogy for jail, from a work perspective, in the corporate world? The sort of swanky offices of new-age companies that provide you everything — gym, crèche, sports facilities, multiple entertainment and dining/snack options, bosses encouraging series of night-outs with work-mates, and vacations as ‘off-sites’ — gas-lighting you into believing that your life and home equals work. The lines seem indistinguishably blurred, although you could be in a really fancy jail.

This is the lot, whether working or not, that is always “busy”. Because, technically, they’re at work. Always. Most others, with a healthier work-life equilibrium, especially in cities like Mumbai, spend a walloping proportion of their work-time, commuting.

According to Uber’s statistics for Mumbai, we spend 11 full days in a year, only in daily, regular commutes — most, if not almost all of it, obviously involving work. Which is the first thing you notice about a strictly imposed WFH — how lack of commute, skews your sense of time. Somehow 7:30 pm feels like 9.30 pm. Because? It is.

That’s what you’ve saved, besides on long meetings that should be WhatsApp group-chats, and flights out of town (emitting million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide) that could be video-conferences, with signatures swapped over email. You can start with rationing some of those extra hours into lazy siestas (without waiting for Sundays).

It’s also technically possible to live in Solapur and work from Singapore, if the internet connection (in Solapur) is as good, and you care two hoots for a social life! So why hasn’t the world opted for a uniform WFH — doing away with backbreaking real-estate costs, and increasing individual productivity, all at once? Makes perfect sense, right? Right.

Depends on what the job entails also, though. If it involves a group in cohesion, supporting, brainstorming, heading towards a common goal; then, well, try as hard as you like, you simply can’t play football with chess players. Even on a long video-call, there are ‘non-verbals’ you’ll miss, that only sustained human interactions can detect/appreciate.

And now that you’re home, and at work, all by yourself, I only have to slip in a quick questionnaire on how slightly scatter-brained and semi-focussed you feel, between several breaks at irregular intervals, during a regular workday, for you to figure the level of mental discipline (of a sportsperson) it takes, to set and meet daily timelines, scripted by the hour, for months on end. Physical company of peers at work easily helps you with that, if you can’t on your own.

I’ve worked with teams, and flown solo (which means working remotely with multiple teams), for almost equal number of years in my professional life. What’s that I hate most about the latter, or WFH, as it were?

That a simple shave/shower, or the fact of not being in ‘chaddies’ (boxers), gets elevated to festive-season luxury, rather than the necessity that it is, when your day involves multiple human contact. No, no, I’m currently on my desk, cleanly shaven, having luxuriously bathed for half an hour, no less. But the last time was… Well, day-before… No, yesterday. Oh let’s please not get into it!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper

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